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Lessons from the Taliban
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10 Jun 2010
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Thursday, June 10, 2010
Zafar Hilaly

We owe the Taliban a lot. But for them, introspection would not have occurred. They focussed our minds on what we are not, but must be, if we are to survive. Whether we can effect a transformation and reinvent ourselves is another matter. Probably not; but at least we will not be able to say that the ‘Quadyanis’, Americans, Israelis, India and the KESC prevented us from knowing this about ourselves.

What lessons did the Taliban impart? First, to stop indulging the ignorances, indifferences and imbecilic hatreds of the populace who invariably elect the likes Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and the Ilahis to rule us. That is not to say that the uniformed variety, who the people had no say in their infliction upon us, were any better. It’s just that the people are so easily diverted, deluded and misinformed, so full of crass contradictions that it is delusional to expect them to work democracy even after they have learned to spell it. Look at Rome: the mob changed the aristocracy into a democracy, and then vice versa. The people’s judgement is, after all, “a mere lottery.” Surely, a system more suited to our needs can be evolved.

The second lesson is that the army is not some kind of a robotic fighting machine which, when switched on, and wound up and pointed in a direction, starts to fight till the coil unwinds. And, then it starts again, like one of those “Made in Japan” toy soldiers of the fifties. The army is made up of men who bleed like us and who can think and have souls. True, they are trained to fight, but that does not mean that they are the answer; force never is, it is at best a temporary palliative. Besides, a nation “is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered.”

Nevertheless, the notion that is dinned into our warriors, day in and day out, that the army is a nation within a nation comprising a distinct breed different from, and superior to, the “bloody civilians,” ends up in them actually believing it. We saw this phenomenon taken to absurd extents under Musharraf when an ex-army spy was thought good enough to be made minister of education and some others were made heads of universities.

Of course, a better example was Musharraf himself. A fairly ordinary soldier, at best, he not only developed delusions of grandeur but also trivialities. He presided over meetings the subject of which he had not the faintest idea. Ignorance came to his rescue now and then, which allowed the experts to have their way, but the little knowledge he possessed on issues such as foreign affairs was indeed a dangerous thing. Ironically, he owed his downfall to the idea that being of a special breed he had special insights, which he clearly did not, as events proved.

The third lesson is that unless the state controls the teaching and interpretation of religious texts, mindless medieval men will murder religion with bigotry and frighten people with her ghosts. The Irish patriot, Daniel O’Connell summed it up aptly:

“Bigotry has no head and cannot think; no heart and cannot feel. When she moves it is in wrath; when she pauses it is amid ruin. Her prayers are curses, her communion is death, her vendetta is eternity and her decadence written in the blood of her victims.”

Consider Arab states, which invariably control not only the teaching of religion but also its interpretation. In Yemen a cleric who diverted from the Friday khutba issued by the ministry of religious affairs was dragged from the pulpit even as he was speaking to the congregation. There is no priesthood in Islam. A venerable outward appearance gives no one the right to seek or expect obeisance by others.

Ending bigotry and espousing a tolerant and progressive attitude towards religion has the advantage of discouraging intolerance. The Quran and Sunnah forbid blasphemy and at the same time protect the right of all to practice their own religions. Deriding Islam is rightly a punishable offence, just as the deriding of other religions by Muslims must also be, to say nothing of killing members of other religions and sects.

A fourth lesson is making greater sense of the law and legal procedures. Noticeably, about the only thing that appealed to the Swatis about the Taliban was their ability to dispense justice quickly, even crudely. Such was the desperation of the people of Swat with the system. The law of the land, as it presently stands, as much as the quality of those who apply it, is abysmal. Not to be overlooked is the crippling cost of corruption to the many seeking justice, but worse are the dilatory procedures.

For example, four years after the death of a former foreign minister his successors are still struggling to obtain his property from the tenant, an EU member-state, which refuses to vacate the premises or pay the rent claiming diplomatic immunity.

And, notwithstanding the decision of two lower-court judges denying the Mission immunity and ordering it to vacate the premises, an additional sessions judge ruled that a foreign Mission is barred from being sued; and, hence, by implication, can stay as long as it wishes in the property without paying the rent or being in possession of a valid lease which expired two years ago. The absurdity of the judgement, quite apart from the fact that it is contrary to statute and international law, did not occur to the judge. It is just as well that the erstwhile tenant, now a trespasser, cannot pick up the house and the land and depart with it to Europe.

Considering the dismal state of the administration of justice which has reduced many to penury, and almost all to tears, one would have thought that our elected or selected luminaries would have jumped into action. In fact, that is far from happening. This lot are not only slow in themselves but the cause of slowness in others. Why else are hundreds of vacant positions of judges not being filled while thousands of cases remain unheard? Against such stupidity we have struggled in vain, but not the Taliban. They took up arms. Their justice may be crude but it is swift and effective.

Simply put, our tragedy is that, even as we get to learn more and more, we end up doing less and less, and often nothing. If the lessons the Taliban have attempted to teach us are forgotten, how about remembering what we have learnt? Why bury our head in the sand in the face of danger? As one saying has it, “if one is too lazy to think, too vain to do a thing badly, too cowardly to admit it, one will never attain wisdom.”

The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

They’re coming — for good
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19 Apr 2010
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Monday, April 19, 2010
Zafar Hilaly

Let’s, for a change, jump to some conclusions, ignoring the caution that it is wiser not to do so. Let’s also examine the portents, rather than the contents, of the recently concluded US-Pakistan dialogue with a little more imagination than what is usually on offer, or permitted. What does it suggest?

Well, to begin with, that the talks not only went off well but, perhaps, too well. The Pakistani participants seemed over the moon, and so too their American counterparts. The former were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of goodies to come, while America, having restored trust between the two sides and with Pakistan fully on board, feels that it could still emerge from Afghanistan with its reputation intact. Of course, that is wishful thinking. The Taliban will retreat in the face of McCrystal’s oncoming “surge” and Pakistani pressure on their safe havens. But they will adjust and return to do battle. The Taliban, after all, are masters of their trade. Nevertheless, the vibes from the Washington meeting suggest that a breakthrough has indeed occurred. America is returning to Pakistan not to merely visit, or hang around, but to roost. It plans to be involved up to its neck in Pakistan. And the involvement will be close, intense and hands-on. And, what is more, America has, as its willing partner, the Pakistani military under Gen Kayani.

The transformation of the relationship—from diffident allies to partners, from having a stake to co-ownership of Pakistan’s future—stems from Washington’s belief that Pakistan must be saved, in spite of itself, for the sake of America’s own security. There is simply too much at stake. For Washington, acting like a backseat driver won’t do. The time has come for America, conjoined by Pakistan’s military, to take the wheel and chart the course. Without tinkering overly with the present system, the authors of this…let’s call it the “New Order,” mean to improve its working. The agenda will be nation-building-plus. Elected civilian governments will be the rule, but they will have to function within clearly defined economic and political parameters. The authors mean to be heard and obeyed, though seldom seen.

In return for allowing America a decisive say in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, and for unreserved willingness to cooperate in military matters, many good things are on offer:

1. Immediately, the IMF will be told to be more accommodating when it comes to enforcing its lethal regimen of ever-increasing taxes in lieu of subsidies. 2. The army can confidently expect to get more of what it requires, for doing more of what America wants. 3. A well-funded effort made to address Pakistan’s energy shortfall is likely to get underway as soon as projects identified by Pakistan pass American scrutiny. 4. India has already been approached to be less demanding and cantankerous, and restart the composite dialogue. “Secret orders” by Obama to this effect were reportedly issued earlier this year. 5. Foreign investment in Pakistan is being canvassed with, perhaps, America letting on quietly that it will be safeguarded. 6. Such an assurance, along with a good chit from the IMF, will enable the Friends of Pakistan Group to release moneys pledged earlier but withheld for fear of lack of transparency. 7. Meanwhile, the water crisis has been broached. Old dams will be dredged, canals lined, and much else done to improve the water supply. 8. At the end of the line, or somewhere in the middle of this ambitious agenda, if things go well, will be civil nuclear cooperation. 9. A seat at the table for Pakistan when it comes to deciding Afghanistan’s future setup has probably been conceded and, to cap it all, American assistance to achieve whatever is doable on Kashmir.

It is an ambitious menu, no doubt, but few will have failed to notice how much it blends with the 56-page list, unfairly dismissed as a “wish list,” handed over to the American side during the visit. A “wish list” is what you ideally need but cannot afford, not what is available for the asking if you cooperate and fulfil your side of the bargain.

There are several telltale signs that the “New Order” is being put into place. At America’s insistence the cofounder of the “New Order,” Gen Kayani, was made to attend and take the credit for the foreordained success of the Washington Dialogue. Twice the dates of the meeting were postponed while the government dallied with the question of his inclusion. The treatment extended to him during the visit was perhaps unique in terms of importance, given his standing in our own order of protocol. According to sources, Gen Kayani was “bugled” into the Pentagon when he arrived, a rare honour.

In preparation for the “New Order” Mr Zardari has been stripped of all his powers, less on account of the Charter of Democracy and more because Mr Zardari tends to abuse his powers rather than use them responsibly. Of course, Mr Zardari is being allowed to sell it as selflessness personified. Soon to go will be Mr Zardari’s controversial henchmen; they will likely be picked off, one by one, in the forthcoming trials and be replaced by carefully vetted men like Hafeez Shaikh. Mr Zardari himself may remain untouched for the moment, unless, of course, he hastens his own demise by acting up. And, if the judges become too unwieldy, a standoff between the two organs of the state can quickly be made to rebound to the detriment of both. With Gen Kayani now sure to get an extension or, better still, a promotion to the post of chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with enhanced powers, and Obama likely to win a second term, if only because its voting him out will traumatise American society, just as much as voting him in brought it together, the course is set. We are in for a period of stability in Pakistan. Noticeably, the Stock Market is booming.

How will the “New Order” be received? The major political parties will have to play ball. But as they are willing to play any game, even Russian roulette, in return for the pelf of office, this should pose no problem. Besides, they are used to taking directions; indeed, they are at a loss when acting without them. Even Nawaz Sharif, the one holdout, is rumoured to have “matured” after some tutoring. Moreover, the group of Kashmiris and East Punjabis around him are true survivors. They know how to adjust when the need arises. So much so that, when it happens, they will relish the crackdown on their ilk, the Punjabi fundos, as being long overdue. As for the populace, they are already disillusioned with the political parties. They have had it up to their gills with corruption and bad governance. They will welcome any relief that the “New Order” promises. In any case, it is not as if despotism is being imposed. The faces of those holding political office will remain comfortingly familiar and the font of democracy will be in place. Only the puppeteers will have changed.

The arrival of America with a decisive voice in government will undoubtedly fuel religious opposition. Links between religious political parties and the militant lashkars and jaishes, that are already fairly pronounced, will no doubt increase; however, their popularity need not. Moreover, the retaliation that they will invite by, for example, the closure of madressahs affiliated with them could deprive them of an important source of revenue. Thus, while their opposition to the “New Order” can be taken for granted, so too can its inefficacy.

Pakistan clearly needs a second wind if it is to emerge from the morass we are in. The advent of the “New Order” may just be the break we need. What do we have to lose?

The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

The Indians are coming!
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10 Feb 2010
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Zafar Hilaly

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The writer is a former ambassador.

It is a pity that neither Delhi nor Islamabad has ever acquired the faculty of imagining the suffering and joy of the other, to say nothing of their respective concerns and limitations, and the two governments are all too ready to lapse into recriminations at the drop of a hat. They attribute evil and devious motives to each other and reach for whatever is at hand to threaten the other. This is all the more surprising because civil society in both countries is strongly averse to conflict. A fact repeatedly ascertained by polls and people-to-people exchanges. If this message is now finally resonating in Delhi, and is the reason why India wishes to resume the dialogue, it would be a cause for rejoicing, unfortunately it is not.

The reason is more prosaic. Delhi has finally accepted that its earlier policy of threatening war and risking worse was unwise. It merely encouraged the terrorists and disheartened well-wishers; most of all, it proved self-defeating. For India to find out what policy may work by finding out what did not work was hardly savvy.

Why it took so long for the penny to drop is not clear. Admittedly, India was hurt and enraged by what happened at Mumbai. Any country would be; but lashing out at Pakistan, which is itself reeling under terror as perhaps no other country in the world, revealed insensitivity to Pakistan’s predicament and an ignorance of the inefficiency of subcontinental bureaucracy that was breathtaking. Naturally, it only made matters worse.

Hence, after the initial upsurge of sympathy for India, Islamabad went into lockdown, convinced that India was bent on revenge rather than justice and an opportunity to strengthen cooperation was lost. No wonder in those dark days after the Mumbai attack many felt that if there was any light that they thought they had glimpsed at the end of the tunnel (as a result of progress in the composite dialogue) it was the light of an oncoming train.

Of course, the dialogue will not restart exactly where it was broken off by India. We cannot pick up the thread as if Mumbai never happened, nor should we. Terrorism is understandably for India the single most important item on the agenda. But its being projected by Delhi as the only item is imprudent. It may once again stall the talks because Pakistan is as interested in making progress on Kashmir and water-sharing as in cooperation to combat terrorism. Bickering over the agenda must not be allowed to derail the process. A middle ground needs to be found and, what is more, discernible progress recorded, or else one side or the other will lose interest in the dialogue. Frankly, it is better not to have any talks than for them to fail amid a welter of accusations.

If the dialogue resumes, Pakistan owes its Indian visitors a detailed accounting of all the steps it has taken to apprehend and punish the terrorists involved and, in particular, why some accused by India are not yet behind bars. And also why it has not been possible, on the evidence proffered by India and whatever we have gathered, to obtain a conviction. No doubt, in return, we would want to know what has been the outcome of the Samjhauta Express enquiry. Going the extra mile to allay mutual suspicions can only do good.

Sadly, in both countries there are those who harbour mindless hate for the other side. Hate, which has penetrated their innards; and unless they hate someone or some other nation or creed they can’t be happy. But, because in a democracy merely harbouring hate is insufficient to deprive a man of his liberty, they escape punishment. That is why presumably Bal Thackeray is not in prison in India and, one suspects, Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan. Nor do preconceived notions, suspicions and historical ill-will have any place when it comes to negotiations. A road that goes from the eye to the heart without going through the intellect is obviously the wrong one.

Hence, Pakistan and India must address their mutual concerns devoid of anger or malice, lest the next hiatus in relations, when it comes, does not last longer and end in disaster. This is not an idle caution, nor a needless one. The degree of animus some of the participants bring to the table is inexcusable.

The timing of the Indian initiative has understandably aroused speculation; it even surprised Indian diplomats. Prime Minister Gilani ascribed it to “international pressure.” India, on the other hand, claims that it is “a calculated initiative to unlock the dialogue process.” Chances are that it is both. Indeed, there may well be a third factor, a “calculated” and perhaps conjoined Indo-US initiative, not so much to “unlock the dialogue process” as to help America enlist Pakistan’s grudging support for the forthcoming “surge.” And, if none of the above, then at the very least it serves as an encouraging curtain-raiser for the intensified fighting that is expected to commence momentarily in Afghanistan as the American “surge” gets underway, for which Pakistan’s cooperation is indispensable.

Viewed thus, the decision to resume talks with Pakistan was not so much a belated admission by India of a policy that had failed but rather an astute manoeuvre to augment American pressure on Pakistan prior to the surge.

Actually, nearly all of India’s moves, of late, have thrown into bold relief its fixation to play a major role in Afghanistan. According to one Indian analyst, India considers the prospect of a regime in Kabul that is unfriendly to India as intolerable; that Pakistan on no account be allowed to regain a foothold in Afghanistan, and that, at the very least, a fundamentalist regime of the type of the Taliban not take root in Kabul, because, “a significant part of the terrorist infrastructure that was groomed in Afghanistan was directed against India.”

While the writer is Indian, in opinion and outlook he speaks like a contemporary American and that too of the neo-con mould. It seems that India will make use of any argument to indulge its temptation to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and delve in the “Afghan nest of snakes” that has proved the undoing of so many, including Pakistan, much like others before it. All of which only reinforces Hegel’s belief that “what experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

Not that India or Pakistan will likely be dissuaded by what history recounts. Hence, for the foreseeable future, there will always be an Afghan dimension to the relationship that India forges with Pakistan, adding, thereby, one more complicating and needless factor to an already vexed relationship.

As talks resume, the war in Afghanistan drags on and Indian and Pakistani policymakers grapple with designing the architecture for peace in the region they could usefully recall the caution that the Chinese sage Chi Wen Tzu proffered to his monarch two thousand years ago: “Think three times before taking any step, even though twice would have been enough.” Perhaps, if his caution had been heeded after Mumbai, much of what happened would not have transpired, and today both countries would have been implementing agreements that now seem distant and difficult.

Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

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08 Oct 2009
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Article Published In JANG By Waqar Yousaf
America Jis Ka Dost Ho
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01 Nov 2008
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